The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

Best Thing I Ate All Year 2018

Each December we celebrate the Charlottesville food year by asking: what was the best thing you ate all year? Here are the picks from 20172016 and 2015. And, below are this year’s picks in our food industry’s annual tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty. Meanwhile, check back here next week for The Charlottesville 29 pick for 2018 Dish of the Year.

Jascon Becton (MarieBette) and Mitchell Beerens (Lampo and Prime 109)

Grilled Pork Steak at Oakhart Social.

Becton: “I love pork in most of its various forms and the grilled pork steak at Oakhart Social is a pretty phenomenal iteration. It is perfectly cooked and the flavors perfectly balanced. It reminded me a little of the flavors from Filipino BBQ but with pineapple. Delicious!”

Beerens: “Hands down, the best thing I ate this year is the pork blade steak at Oakhart Social. I’ve spoken with many local chefs about it and they all love it. Grilled blade steak with grilled pineapple, candy onion, cilantro, jalapeño, and peanuts. So so simple and so so good.”

pork steak

Melissa Close-Hart (Junction)

Ricotta Ravioli at Fellini’s and Parker House Rolls at Prime 109. “I had plenty of great dishes this year, but the best of the best is a tie. And both were at special occasion meals. Matthew and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary at Fellini’s with Chris and Sarah Humphrey taking great care of us. Out of the many amazing dishes, the stand out was a house made ricotta ravioli, with local butternut squash sauce, sautéed apples, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Some of my favorite flavors of Fall in one dish. The dish was a perfect balance of delicate pasta, rich savory flavors and a touch of sweet. The next dish came at my birthday dinner at Prime 109. The whole team went above and beyond to make my night special and the entire meal was fantastic, but what I can’t stop thinking about is their Parker House Rolls. I’m such a bread eater and these rolls are to die for. I ordered a second round before the first were even finished. I actually see myself stopping in just for an app and a whole pan of rolls just for myself. Don’t ask for me to share, because it won’t happen.”

Parker

Ryan Collins (Little Star)

Shrimp Toast at Oakhart Social.  “Super simple dish of perfectly griddled Pullman loaf from Albemarle Baking Company topped with a simple salad of poached rock shrimp, creme fresh dressing, pickled mustard seed and chives.  This summer I started every meal at Oakhart with it.”

Jose de Brito (Fleurie)

Chocolate Croissant at Albemarle Baking Company. “I did not have much time this year to dine out. Between the time in our house in Little Washington and my work at Fleurie, I am always busy. But before our weekly drive back to Washington my wife always stops by Albermale Baking Company to stock up on bread and viennoiserie. Their pain au chocolat is as good as any good pain au chocolat back in France. Voila c’est tout, good people!”

Pain au chocolat

Laura Fonner (Duner’s)

Green Pea Kofta with Feta Lebneh and Cucumber Salad at Peloton Station. “This place seems like a sports bar but the food has been elevated to a different level. Not your average sports bar food. Well thought out snacks and sandwiches, but this particular appetizer is one of my favorite flavor profiles: Middle Eastern. Traditionally done with ground meat and full of spices. Without meat, Chef Curtis was able to accomplish all of the same flavors and textures as the real deal. Great crunchy texture to compliment the beautifully spiced inside. The thick yogurt and pickled salad is the perfect accompaniment. It’s just all around a wonderful bite!”

kofta

Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)

Duck Plato del Dia at MAS Tapas. “Mas Tapas always makes me and Donna happy. The Jamon Iberico de Bellota is something that I could eat every minute of every day. Their puck plato del dia that was seasonally paired with fresh cherries and Vinagre de Jerez was beautifully prepared and super delicious. Mike Ketola and his crew (Keaton Contini) always go above and beyond to make us feel special and loved.”

duckmas

Christian Kelly (Maya)

Butter and a Baguette from Albemarle Baking Company. “As I’ve been thinking back over what I have eaten this year, it has been the simple foods that have really spoken to me. About a month ago, I texted my friend Gerry Newman of Albemarle Baking Company to say I had just eaten close to an entire baguette with butter. Way too much butter in one sitting but I was, ‘on a roll’ (ouch! Is that even funny?). Crispy, crunchy, spongy, sublime.”

bread and butter

Nancy McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie)

Boat Noodle Soup at Thai Cuisine and Noodle House. “I’m sure I’m not the only one to choose this, but the boat noodle soup with fresh tofu at Thai Cuisine and Noodle House is my go to dish. I love the slight crunch of the Chinese broccoli and the fermented hot sauce complemented by their salty sweet bone broth, basil, and of course rice noodles. Comfort food at its best: satiating but doesn’t leave you feeling stuffed. Add on a Thai Beef salad with toasted rice and a bowl of P7 for my husband and that’s a solid lunch date.”

boatnoodles

Loren Mendosa (Lampo and Prime 109)

Celery Root Pappardelle at C&O. “Matt Boisvert made me and Emily a truly stellar meal at C&O. One of the courses was particularly impressive, though: Dean’s celery root pappardelle. So hard  — though getting easier — to find vegan foods that people really put love and attention into. The meal was one of my favorites of my life.”

Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)

Ricotta Toast at Oakhart Social. “Ahhh! Perfect. And, maybe even more surprising, the gin and tonic slushie. Because it was blisteringly hot and Todd told me to get it, but I hesitated because I don’t like gin and tonic.  Well…. I liked THAT gin and tonic. Whoa.”

ricotta

Ian Redshaw (Lampo and Prime 109)

Lamb Ribs at Oakhart Social. “The first time I had the lamb ribs at Oakhart, it was straight up like tasting Mr. Holland’s opus. Tristan really nailed it with this dish.”

lamb ribs

Ivan Rekosh (ZoCaLo)

Gazpacho Anadaluz at Quality Pie. “One of the most delicious gazpachos I’ve ever tasted. It could have been the beautiful fall day or the super friendly service that made it so great but I think it was the simple and straightforward preparation that really showcased the tomato flavor. Tomas perfectly balanced the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes. Paired with a truffle grilled cheese and you have a winning lunch!”

gazpacho

Wilson Richey (Ten Course Hospitality)

Bavette at Prime 109.  “Prime has been a tremendous addition to the eating experiences in this town. There are so many reasons to dine there, the burger is incredible, the ambiance is gorgeous, and the drinks delicious. But one of my favorite reasons to go is the steak, specifically the bavette! This is my favorite cut of those I have sampled yet. In Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest, M. Gustave says: ‘When you’re young, it’s all filet steak, but as the years go by, you have to move on to the cheap cuts. Which is fine with me, because I like those. More flavorful, or so they say.’ I love the quote and share the sentiment. Perhaps it explains why I love bavette so much. Personally, I don’t get anything with the steak. I love all the sides and accouterments, but when it comes to steak, give it to me well seasoned and perfectly cooked and I want for nothing. At Prime it is both.”

PK Ross (Splendora’s)

Kumamoto Oysters at The Alley Light. “The best thing I ate all year is also the simplest. The Alley Light, way back in January, had Kumamoto oysters on special. Dollop of caviar and paper thin lemon slices, with the absolute coldest vodka to pair. Clean, fresh, but decadent.”

Kumamoto

John Shanesy (Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar)

Ham Biscuit with Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard from JM Stock Provisions. “Family tradition when my brothers and father visit. Better housemade biscuits or ham can be found nowhere in Charlottesville. ‘Nuff Said.” (Note: Shanesy takes the biscuits home to add the mustard himself.)

biscuit

Angelo Vangelopoulos (Ivy Inn)

German Chocolate Cake Ice Cream with Donut Holes at Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie. “Michael hosted an Oktoberfest dinner at Dr. Ho’s, a four course chef’s menu tasting. We were stuffed beyond capacity, but still found room to eat the dessert, ‘German Chocolate Cake’ Ice Cream with donut holes. It was worth the suffering of being over served and earns its place as the best thing I ate all year. (You might have to make a special request, I don’t think it’s on the menu!)”

angelochocolate

Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

Tasting Menu at Back 40. “The pea salad with perfectly sweet and fresh peas was out of this world. The tempura fried baby carrots with ramp kimchi was inspiring. Tucker really knows how to make veggies do what they do and just lets them shine. That is skillful and confident. It was pretty heart-breaking when they shut Back 40 down.”

Tucker Yoder 

Potatoes from Sweet Greens Farm. “Some beautiful end of the season potatoes from Sweet Greens Farm. Roasted, with butter and flaky salt.”

potatoes

What is The Charlottesville 29?

What is The Charlottesville 29? At its core, it is an insider’s guide to Charlottesville’s essential restaurants, answering: if there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29? More background here.

Whether you’re visiting Charlottesville for the first time or a longtime resident deciding where to spend your hard-earned money, the guide helps to decide where to go and what to order when you get there. For each entry, it explains why it made the list and also includes ordering recommendations from the restaurant’s own chef/owner as well other chefs and personalities around town. Before you go to Tavola for example, learn what chef-owner Michael Keaveny suggests eating there, as well as dishes other chefs say not to miss. The latter suggestions come from archives of Five Finds on Friday, a weekly list of five favorite food items in the area, picked by area chefs and personalities. The guide includes hundreds of favorite dishes from the archives.

How do restaurants make the list? Entries are chosen annually by me, the longtime restaurant writer for C-VILLE Weekly. Food is my passion, and I have eaten thousands of restaurant meals in Charlottesville over the past 25 years. Selections are based strictly on my assessment, as there is no advertising on the site. Nor has it ever made a penny of revenue.

Restaurants on The Charlottesville 29 are easy to spot around town because they display a 29 window decal.

You can find the 2018 Charlottesville 29 here, and the 2019 Charlottesville 29 announcement will begin in February. Meanwhile, check back here next week when top Charlottesville chefs name the best thing they ate all year.

Five Finds on Friday: Rebecca Edwards

Rebecca

Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Tavola Cichheti Bar’s Rebecca Edwards, creator of one of the best cocktails of the year. With several great bartenders in town now, “Dealer’s Choice” reaped rewards all year long in 2018. Even among that elite group, though, Edwards’ Smoke & Ashes stood out. Edwards stirs together Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Meletti Amaro, Cocchi Dopo Teatro, and a pinch of salt, before placing the glass under a glass dome filled with applewood smoke. Edwards’ picks:

1) Wedge Salad at Oakhart Social. “I walk into Oakhart and I’m immediately in my happy place. Most of the time I’m there with my coworkers to get drinks after a Saturday night shift, but when I do get in there at normal people dinner hours, the wedge salad is an absolute must. The combination of the creamy poppy seed dressing with the everything bagel spice is heaven when paired with the pickled red onion and the crunch of baby gem lettuce. My fiancé, Steve, is essentially a carnivore and even he consistently craves this salad, so this dish is kind of a miracle.”

2) K.I.S.S. Caprese at Ivy Provisions. “As a vegetarian in a super meat-loving town, I eat A LOT of caprese sandwich variations. The K.I.S.S. Caprese is the one I consistently crave—even though I sometimes eat it multiple times in one week! Their fresh mozzarella is buttery and melts in your mouth, and it perfectly contrasts with the bitter kick of the arugula. I like to add avocado; it makes for a messy and delicious lunch feast.”

3) Vesper Martini at Lost Saint. “Colin and his team have a wonderful cocktail menu all around, but one of my favorite aspects of this place is their huge foundation of classic cocktails. Vespers have kind of fallen out of style in recent years (maybe because they’re shaken instead of stirred) but as far as martinis go they’re my absolute favorite. Boozy yet deceptively smooth, a Vesper is always a great end to a long bar shift. I usually leave the gin choice up to Colin—he almost always has a new product I’m excited to try.”

4) Burrata and Artichoke Ravioli at Tavola. “This one might be cheating because it’s a special and Chef Dylan only runs it once every few months, but I’m including it because this is truly one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted. (I’m not the only one—my mom has me text her every time it’s on the specials board!) House-made ravioli stuffed with burrata cheese and artichokes, topped with truffle butter, roasted artichokes, grana padano and chives. It’s a dish that reads as incredibly rich, but it ends up being decadent yet light at the same time. Paired with a glass of Catarratto, every bite is an absolute dream.”

5) Tofu and Veggie Drunken Noodles at Pad Thai. “This is another one I’ll sometimes order multiple times a week. When I eat Thai food I usually prefer a sinus-clearing level of spice, and this dish definitely delivers. The noodles are cooked perfectly and there are a generous variety of veggies to add crunch. Definitely my favorite Thai food in town!”

Smoke & Ashes

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